Monday, January 28, 2013

We like them! We really like them!

The One and Only Ivan won the Newbery! This is Not My Hat won the Caldecott! A Goucher grad racked up another Newbery Honor! Staff recs from my store are represented in the Newbery, Printz Honor, Morris, and Alex winners! Jon Klassen's going to give a hilarious speech!  Drama got a shout-out! So did a Pete the Cat book! This Aristotle and Dante book looks totally worth reading! My coworkers are as excited as I was about this youth media awards thing! It seems like customers are too! (And we'll have the rest of the books really, really soon!)

There are certainly other books I'd have loved to see recognized, and I'll keep recommending them, awards or no. But I spent a lot of this morning doing the IRL version of \0/ as my colleague read results off Twitter and Hypable.

Let the library-holding begin!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fruit's been good for January. Newberys and blueberries, anyone?

ALA Youth Media Awards on Monday! I'll refrain from guesses at what's likely to win, and save my speculation (outside the Kidlit Drink Night pool) for how much display space we'll end up devoting to the awards in our kids' section and how fast the results will be up in an easily referenced format, since I'll be running around the store when they're announced.

But I will use this space to sing the praises of a few titles that would make me really happy if they won something.

I was delighted to see my staff pick at the time, Inside Out and Back Again, win a Newbery Honor last year, and I would love to see similar good fortune befall any of this year's picks. (A Very Special House doesn't count, since it won its Caldecott Honor long before I... well, long before I anything.) 

See You at Harry's is a tough one to pigeonhole. Is it upper middle-grade? Lower YA? With the Newbery encompassing books for ages fourteen and down and the Printz including books for ages twelve to eighteen (my inner bookseller keeps wanting to say "about" before mentioning numbers), I'd say it has a good and well-deserved shot. It has a decent shot at the Stonewall, too, as does Ask the Passengers, which I'm about to finish and which is also quite the Printz contender. It's really successful in conveying the common adolescent realization that not everything fits into simple categories, and the difficulty in getting others to understand how that truth fits into one's own identity. Warning: reading this after the sometimes-infuriating Just One Day will make you think YA literature is made of horrible mothers. But The Fault in Our Stars, another obvious and worthy contender, is a good remedy for that.

Code Name Verity, the other YA rec I made this year, blew me away most because of its sleight of hand, but wow, the characterization makes it so much more than just tricky. As I've said elsewhere, very little besides the age of the characters makes this distinctly YA. I know we have the Alex Awards for adult-to-YA crossovers, but there's plenty of fodder for an award going the other way, and both this and TFioS are deserving.

More thoughts on Newbery? The One and Only Ivan manages to create a voice for a gorilla that lets readers see what's going on beyond what he understands, without ever sounding gimmicky. Wonder may have peaked early - we've all had lots of time to analyze it, and it does have its flaws - but I still applaud it for going so much further than just telling Auggie's story. I swear it's not pro-Pennypacker bias (I do have a soft spot for Clementine) that makes me cheer for Summer of the Gypsy Moths, a kids-on-their-own story that I think is good for the same reason From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is good. And Jerry Spinelli's Jake and Lily uses just a touch of magical realism to depict late childhood more effectively, I think, than this year's Hokey Pokey. (I'm open to being talked out of that claim.)

And Caldecott? This is Not My Hat reminds me of Officer Buckle and Gloria in the degree to which it lets kids "read" the pictures and know more than the characters. Unspoken does the same for older readers (could it even be a contender for the Newbery?... Maybe not. From the Newbery criteria: "'Contribution to American literature' indicates the text of a book." ). I Have a Dream is amazing in the way Kadir Nelson's work is always amazing - the guy knows how to use light.

Obviously, I'm not on any of the committees; these are reflections on personal preferences, with the occasional allusions to previous works and other external factors. But how cool would it be if any of these won? And how cool would it be to be surprised with something totally new?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A thing of awesome

I went to a thing at the Brookline Library on Tuesday. There were other adults there, but much of the themed-cupcake-eating audience consisted of teenagers who talked about books a lot and were very good at trivia about John Green novels.

The Evening of Awesome at Carnegie Hall is as hard to sum up as the Nerdfighter phenomenon that produced it. It was an event celebrating the first anniversary of the very serious but often also funny book The Fault in Our Stars, and there was talk about and a reading from the book, but a whole lot of other things happened. John and his equally talented brother Hank have used the conglomeration of interests that is the Internet to create a Thing where it makes sense for one event to include John's musings about his and everyone's purpose in life; Hank's songs about Harry Potter, quarks, and anglerfish; musical performances by the Mountain Goats and Kimya Dawson; and a questions-from-Twitter segment with questions read by Neil Gaiman and by Hannah Hart of "My Drunk Kitchen." In short, the Greens have enabled a hodgepodge.

A hodgepodge of awesome.

See? (Starts about 35 minutes in.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Adult books. (No, not new books for adults.)

"New Adult" literature seems to be a hot topic again. There's a great round-up of the recent discussion over at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy, but basically, the idea is a publishing category for the age just after Young Adult. (Oh, semantics, you make me laugh.) Coming-of-age stories set at a slightly later age. (An age just old enough that parents don't get to object if there's sex.)

Most of my friends and I are in our twenties or early thirties, and I think it's fair to say that yes, we're coming of age in a sense. (Ask me in a few decades if it's fair to say the same about people in their forties, fifties or sixties; I suspect the answer may be yes, though we'll obviously be working on different transitions.) The early years of adulthood involve a lot of big decisions, a lot of firsts, often a lot of struggling. We're figuring out a lot of the details of who we are, and I do think there's a place for stories about that. I also think there are a lot of books about that already, with or without an age slapped on their spines like they're leveled readers (which are a topic for another post).

Here's the thing: figuring out who we are means pursuing the things that interest us or that we think might interest us. In some cases, that might mean reading realistic novels about people around our age, but it also means a lot of other things. Some friends my age love science fiction, some love graphic novels, and some love mysteries; most read from more than one genre. Several of my similar-aged coworkers have a Proust Club. Another friend is currently reading three novels, one science text, one social history, and one book on musical theory. And (to oversimplify) I read a lot of kids' books.

I'm not saying it's not worth highlighting books that people going through one thing or another might like. There are plenty of venues for that, especially in an age when, hey, a lot of twentysomethings like to read the Internet. But the idea of a New Adult section of the library or bookstore makes me squeamish. Shelving kids' books roughly by age or grade is, if not unavoidable, generally logical because of difficulty level. But it's still hard to recommend the perfect book when the only information available is an age number. And just as not all nine-year-olds are the same, not all twenty-nine-year-olds are the same.

And hey, if you're over forty? I bet it's still okay to read books about people in their twenties.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reading, writing, and resolutions

I try to read a lot across genres and categories, especially within children's and YA lit, and I'm glad I do. I've discovered lots of books to recommend to customers and a few personal favorites that way; I'd even say that I've discovered some things about my tastes, i.e. a penchant for dystopia. I have every intention of continuing to mix up the reading pile, and of continuing to read about one adult book per month; I read these so selectively that the ones I choose often end up blowing me away.


So many of the books that get attention and therefore end up in my to-read pile are, say, YA fantasy. Trend-wise, that is changing a bit. But trends or no trends, I've realized that I've developed a sense that reading in genres I "already know" is in some way shirking - that it's a guilty pleasure, even. So in 2013, I'm resolving to "play to my strengths" a bit more. For me, that means more middle grade and chapter books and poetry. It means more realism, more humor, more kickass heroines. It means more books featuring members of underrepresented groups, whether or not the books are about their belonging to those groups.

In my writing, it means that though I'll certainly continue to focus on plot, which is my weaker point, I also get to spend more time playing with character. I get to make humor more of a priority instead of assuming it will fall into place. On the side, there will probably be more silly poems and song parodies (most of which will be too ridiculous to see the light of day).

Happy New Year. It's going to be a fun year.